Monday Scramble: G-Mac prevails; Races to be won

By Ryan LavnerNovember 16, 2015, 8:30 pm

Graeme McDowell ends his transitional year on a high note, Russell Knox runs out of gas, the LPGA draws up the perfect season finale, two high-profile caddies trade in their bags for microphones and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Graeme McDowell’s resurgent performance in Mexico was a much-needed reminder of how often life can intervene. 

Contrary to popular belief, those PGA Tour players on our TV screens are not robots. They, too, are humans. And so McDowell, like so many others, has struggled with productivity and desire and motivation following the birth of his first child. He didn’t have the same itch to go practice, to play, to improve. It happens.

His game suffered. His world ranking tumbled. He started to wonder whether he still had the game to win tournaments, to be a major champion, to play on Ryder Cup teams.

McDowell has a strong team around him, and after he realized that what he was experiencing was normal, that it was human, he went back to work with a fresh perspective.

“I’ve been dreaming of this day,” he said after winning in a playoff against Russell Knox and Jason Bohn, “and I said to myself: I’m going to appreciate this when it came.” 

The Mayakoba victory comes with many perks: an invitation to the Masters, a mention from European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke and a two-year security blanket on Tour, in case life intervenes again.

“It’s been a rough year,” McDowell said, “but for all the right reasons.” 

1. Graeme McDowell may have gone 31 months between PGA Tour titles, but apparently he never lost his clutch gene.

His highlight reel is a lengthy one. 

In 2010, he holed a 20-footer on the last to force a playoff with Tiger Woods at the World Challenge, then made a longer birdie putt on the first extra hole. That capped a year in which he won his first major and holed the clinching putt in the Ryder Cup. In 2013, he erased a four-shot deficit on the final day and defeated Webb Simpson in a playoff at the Heritage. And last year, G-Mac went 3-0 at the Ryder Cup, including a come-from-behind singles victory against Jordan Spieth. 

So no, that kind of clutchness doesn’t just disappear.

Which brings us to Monday, when McDowell sank an 8-foot par putt on the 72nd hole to post 18 under, then nearly holed his 205-yard approach on the first playoff hole. All he had left was 2 1/2 feet for the win.

“As good a 5-iron as I can hit,” he said.  

2. How miserable has G-Mac’s 2015 been? His victory at Mayakoba was his first top-10 since January, a span of 24 events. 

3. One of McDowell’s keys to victory came from an unlikely source. Greg Norman sent McDowell a text on the eve of the final round telling him to complete his backswing, because he had gotten "short" and "quick." McDowell then reminded himself of that swing tip when he struck one of the best iron shots of his decorated career.

“That was nice to get a little positive reinforcement,” he said. 

4. Knox’s overly ambitious schedule may have caught up with him at the worst possible time.

“Running on fumes” after playing five consecutive events this fall (including a 10,000-mile trip from Shanghai to Playa del Carmen, Mexico), Knox had a one-shot lead on the 18th hole Monday when he hooked his tee shot into a fairway bunker. With nearly 200 yards to the flag, and a steep lip to clear, Knox couldn’t advance the ball to the green. Worse, he failed to get up and down from a straightforward spot short of the green. In the playoff, he missed the green with an 8-iron and made par.

Though Knox said he didn’t expect to be in contention so soon after his maiden victory at the WGC-HSBC Champions, he said: “I was right there. I should have got it done.”

The last player to win his first two tournaments in consecutive starts? Camilo Villegas, who went back-to-back at the 2008 BMW Championship and Tour Championship. 

5. The only two wins of Bohn’s career have come five years apart. He almost kept the streak alive at Mayakoba, where he missed a 25-foot birdie on the first playoff hole. 

Since his last victory, at the 2010 Zurich Classic, Bohn has recorded seven runner-up finishes. He already has two this season, after a close call in Las Vegas, and now has top-3 finishes in three of his four fall starts. 

It's official: Bohn has joined Kevin Na in professional golf’s torture chamber.   

6. There weren’t many doubts to begin with, but there should be no question now whether No. 1-ranked amateur Jon Rahm is ready for the pros.

The Arizona State senior has four starts on the PGA Tour. He has made three cuts and finished in the top 10 twice – a T-5 at the Phoenix Open earlier this year, and now a T-10 at Mayakoba. 

This high finish was particularly impressive, for Rahm began his final round with back-to-back double bogeys. He rebounded with six birdies and remained steady in wild weather Monday morning. 

After earning the McCormack Medal as the world’s top-ranked amateur, Rahm has exemptions into the 2016 U.S. Open and Open Championship - provided he remains an amateur. Expect to see the big hitter turn pro after Oakmont, and make an immediate impact.  

7. Much has been made recently of the international players who are gassed having to traverse back and forth across the Atlantic to fulfill the obligations of dual membership.

Patrick Reed doesn’t seem to mind.

Even at the end of a long season, Reed has posted three consecutive top-10s in Asia, including a playoff loss at last week’s BMW Masters. The busy fall stretch has moved Reed into the top 15 in the season-long Race to Dubai – and back inside the top 15 in the world.

8. That Reed is even still a European Tour member was up for discussion this past week.

According to the tour’s website, Reed has played 12 events this season – one short of the tour requirement, which he will fulfill this week in Dubai – but only 11 tournaments are listed. 

The missing event? Interestingly enough, it's the Presidents Cup, which counts toward the membership total even though European-born players can’t compete on the International squad.

9. Speaking of which … new European Tour CEO Keith Pelley is expected to announce this week changes to both the circuit’s Final Series and its membership policies.

The Final Series will be reduced from four events to three, with the WGC-HSBC Champions falling out of the rotation. That makes sense, because the limited field for the World Golf Championships event kept out many of the European Tour’s deserving players, including Victor Dubuisson, who won the Finals opener. 

The tour will also announce that the number of required events will drop from 13 (including majors and WGCs) to five events, excluding majors and WGCs. A big deal? Not for the top international players, such as Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose, who will still have to book five trips across the Atlantic. But it should make a difference for fringe stars like Luke Donald and Ian Poulter, who might not qualify for some of golf’s biggest events.  

10. The top six players in the Race to Dubai standings have a chance to win the season-long prize.

Here is how they can win the title:

  • Rory McIlroy wins if … he finishes ahead of Danny Willett. 
  • Willett wins if … he finishes ahead of McIlroy.
  • Justin Rose wins if … he wins or finishes solo second, and McIlroy and Willett finish third or worse (eighth or worse if Rose is second).
  • Shane Lowry wins if … he wins or finishes solo second, and McIlroy and Willett finish third or worse (ninth or worse if Lowry is second).
  • Louis Oosthuizen wins if … he wins or finishes solo second, and McIlroy and Willett finish third or worse (12th or worse if Oosthuizen is second). 
  • Branden Grace wins if … he wins or finishes solo second, and McIlroy and Willett finish third or worse (43rd or worse if Grace is second). 
  • Byeong-Hun An wins if … he wins and McIlroy and Willett finish 29th or worse. 

11. Seems Sergio Garcia has no use for playoff systems this year. 

After skipping the first two events in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, the Spaniard will play only half of the European Tour’s Final Series after he confirmed that he will not be a part of the 60-man field this week in Dubai. 

Garcia was 27th in the standings, after a T-11 finish at the BMW Masters, but he will not play in the Euro Tour’s season finale. No reason was given for his withdrawal, but it’s the second time in the past three years that he has opted out of the final event. 

12. Inbee Park just made this week’s CME Group Tour Championship a whole lot more interesting. 

With a closing 64 at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, Park tied Lydia Ko for the most wins this season (five) and inched to within three points of the teen phenom for Player of the Year honors. It was a remarkable performance, especially since Park recently shelved the clubs for eight days because of a painful cyst in her left hand. 

Almost all of the attention will be on the top two stars, who are in form and primed for a Sunday showdown in Naples. But there is more at stake at the Tour Championship: The top nine on the points list have a mathematical chance to win the $1 million bonus for capturing the season-long Race to the CME Globe, while the top three (Ko, Park and Stacy Lewis) control their own destiny with a win. 

13. With Ko deciding to sit out last week's event in Mexico because of exhaustion, Park has now pulled ahead in the race for the lowest scoring average. Park has a 69.433 average – .016 better than Ko.

14. Let's face it: Not much about this fall series has produced must-see TV, but it’ll be great fun to listen to longtime caddies Jim “Bones” Mackay and John Wood as they serve as on-course reporters during Golf Channel’s telecast of the RSM Classic. (Hey, I’m nothing if not a company man.)

These loopers should bring a new perspective that will be a refreshing contrast to the clichés spouted by many of the ex-players in the booth. That Mackay and Wood just so happen to be two of the most cerebral and articulate people in the game is an added bonus for viewers. 

Can’t trust those hotel shuttles.

Four players competing in last week's Lorena Ochoa Invitational were spared disqualification after the LPGA invoked a rarely used rule and pushed back the players’ tee times because of “exceptional circumstances.” 

The reason? 

Traffic jams in Mexico City, which turned what should have been a 15-minute shuttle ride from the hotel into a two-hour, 15-minute nightmare.

Citing Decision 6-3a/1.5 – which allows tour officials discretion during “exceptional circumstances beyond the players’ control” – the tee times for the final three groups were delayed 53 minutes to accommodate the late-arriving players. 

Hey, who knows, a similar situation may arise this week in Naples. Beware the snowbirds.

This week's award winners ... 

Like Father, Like Son: Dru Love. The son of Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III will make his PGA Tour debut this week at the RSM Classic, where he received a sponsor exemption but still had to play his way into the field.

Friends of Spieth: Kramer Hickok and Alex Moon. Spieth's former roomates and college teammates each shot 66 in the final round of Tour Q-School to advance to final stage and secure at least some status next year on the developmental circuit. 

Overtime Rules: The PGA Tour. The last time that the Tour had consecutive unscheduled Monday finishes? All the way back in 2005, when The Players and BellSouth Classic each went an extra day.

Goodbye, Top 50: Lee Westwood. The Englishman, who reached world No. 1 only four years ago, has fallen out of the top 50 in the world for the first time since '07. He has played every Masters since '05, but that streak is now in jeopardy. 

Back to School: Hunter Stewart. He top-tenned at Mayakoba and earned a spot in this week's RSM Classic field. Only problem? He can't play. He has a date at Q-School's second stage. 

The Machine: Henrik Stenson, who missed only seven fairways all week en route to a T-3 finish at the BMW Masters. A good sign as he heads to Dubai, where has a 66.9 scoring average the past two years there (both wins).

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Teenager Im wins season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.

1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.

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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.